Welcome to Linguis Europae, the EUC's language blog!

Linguis Europae is dedicated to a range of topics involving official state, regional, and minority languages in the EU. Posts are written in five languages by UI students and faculty! Check back regularly for updates!

Bridging the Gap: Language and Community in Action in East Central Illinois

Skye Mclean discusses the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center (ECRIMAC), which provides services essential to refugee and immigrant resettlement in East-Central Illinois and aids in the exchange and preservation of their respective cultures.

Place and Space: Another Perspective on Crimea

Senior Andrey Starosin offers his perspective on the current events taking place in Crimea.

French Professor Revamps Course on "Language and Minorities in Europe"

Linguis Europae's own Zsuzsanna Fagyal and her course "Languages and Minorities in Europe" were featured in a recent issue of the School of Literatures, Cultures, and Linguistics.

Un'Ode al "Dialàtt Bulgnaiś": An Ode to the Bolgnese Dialect

Kaitlyn Russell muses on her fondness for the Italian dialect, Bolognese.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Signora Sindaco: Debate about the Feminization of Professional Titles in Italy

By Robin Wilson

Adapted from Wikimedia
The debate about the feminine form of certain words of profession in the Italian language, specifically job titles, was brought back to the fore with the election of Virginia Raggi, the newly-elected mayor of Rome. She is, in fact, the first ever female mayor of Rome. With her election came the question of whether the word sindaco ‘mayor’ would be used to describe her as occupying the position of the major. Until recently, sindaco had no widely recognized feminine form in the Italian language.

The dominant use of masculine words for titles and professions within the Italian language, however, is not a new phenomenon. Attitudes and inequalities associated with such a dominance was raised as early as 1987 by the researcher and activist Alma Sabatini in her influential treatise Raccomandazioni per un uso non sessista della lingua italiana ‘Recommendations for a non-sexist use of the Italian language’. Although Sabatini’s recommendations were reportedly “listed on the website of the Ministry Equal Opportunities (Ministero delle Pari Opportunità)” until the Ministry was terminated by Matteo Renzi’s government in 2013, it is true that masculine forms continue to dominate when naming professions and institutional roles that were not traditionally filled by women. Examples include medico ‘medical doctor’, ingenere ‘engineer’, and minister ‘minister’ (Robustelli 2013). Many reasons are listed for the resistance of the use of feminine forms for these titles. Some consider feminine forms “ugly” while others believe that masculine forms are also acceptable to use for women exercising the same functions, which makes it unnecessary to invent new forms. On the other hand, there is no resistance to the use of feminine forms for professions and roles traditionally occupied by women, such as infermiera ‘nurse’. As Robustelli (2013) points out, the resistance to feminine forms might indicate a resistance to gender equality and the representation of women in formerly male-dominated professions.
"Mayor" on wordreference.com

La Repubblica, a large Italian newspaper, recently published a piece about how the Italian language is taking a long time to catch up to the new societal norms created in Italy’s increasingly diverse professional environment. Among the most prominent sectors are architecture and surgery (Farinaccio 2016). L'Accademia della Crusca, the oldest linguistic academy in the world and the most revered resource of the Italian language, strongly recommends the feminized versions of the words to be used rather than applying the masculine equiavalents universally. For professional titles and institutional roles relating to crafts, the Academy started recommending a general grammatical guide on how to create the feminine version of these previously solely masculine titles. The National Research Council collaborated with l'Accademia della Crusca and created a “Guide for the Preparation of Administrative Acts: Rules and Suggestions” in 2011. The report specifically mentioned the title sindaco/sindaca, due to its relevance in political life (Istituto di teoria e tecniche dell’informazione giuridica and Accademia della Crusca, 2011). Later, in 2013, the Academy reinforced its recommendations and support of the word sindaca ‘major’ (Robustelli 2013).

In 1987, Alma Sabatini submitted the book “Il sessismo nella lingua italiana" [Sexism in the Italian language] to the Italian Government and to the Commission for Equal Opportunities. This is a crucial piece of writing that is often referenced with respect to the Italian language that derives feminine forms from their masculine equivalents. Sabatini says that such a practice can create negative attitudes towards women (Sabatini, 1897). She also talks about how many conservatives are wary of any linguistic change because they see any adaptation as unnatural and infringing on current habits.

Virginia Raggi (Adapted from Wikimedia)
As Virginia Raggi was one of the catalysts to bring this questioning of the feminization of professional titles back into play, it is of interest to look at her use of the word for mayor. During her campaigning, Raggi used the masculine form sindaco exclusively. Since being elected, Raggi has consistently referred to herself by the feminine form, sindaca, and has proclaimed that gender policies will be an important focus during her term (Aimar 2016).

Changes in the Italian lexicon are undoubtedly important, but they have not yet penetrated into Italian society. Many dictionaries only include the masculine form of various names of professions, and women, specifically mayors, are still more often than not referred to with an all-encompassing masculine titles. Thus, the change from predominantly masculine to a more inclusive grammar in Italy is slow but promising.


Robin Wilson was a sophomore majoring in Global Studies and Italian when she wrote this text in 418, ‘Language and Minorities in Europe’. Robin has worked as an intern in the Illinois Department of Commerce in Chicago over the summer and is studying abroad in Bologna during her senior year. She is interested in migration and international security studies.

Works Cited

Aimar, S. (2016, August 1). What Rome's election of its first female mayor says about women in Italian politics. Retrieved December 1, 2017, from http://fortune.com/2016/06/28/rome-mayor-virgina-raggi/

 “Alma Sabatini e le Raccomandazioni 25 anni dopo”, Retrieved Decmber 1, 2017, from http://www.lauradebenedetti.it/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=65:alma-sabatini-e-le-sue-raccomandazioni-25-anni-dopo&catid=55&Itemid=490

“Guida all’uso non sessista della lingua italiana”, LINKIESTA, Retrieved Decmber 1, 2017, from http://www.linkiesta.it/it/article/2014/07/17/guida-alluso-non-sessista-della-lingua-italiana/22264/

“L’Italia non può permettersi di non avere un Ministero per le Pari Opportunità”, Vice News, marzo 8, 2016, Retrieved Decmber 1, 2017, from https://news.vice.com/it/article/italia-ministro-pari-opportunita-donne

Farinaccio, V. (2016, November 18). Sindaco o sindaca? Cinque regole per risolvere tutti i dubbi
dell'italiano di genere. Retrieved April 08, 2017, from http://www.repubblica.it/cultura/2016/11/18/news/sindaco_sindaca_crusca_italiano-152283266/

Istituto di teoria e tecniche dell’informazione giuridica and Accademia della Crusca, Guida alla redazione degli atti amministrativi. Retrieved December 1, 2017, from http://www.ittig.cnr.it/Ricerca/Testi/GuidaAttiAmministrativi.pdf

L'Accademia della Crusca. (2011). The Accademia. Retrieved April 08, 2017, from

Robustelli, C. (2013, March). Infermiera sì, ingegnera no? Retrieved April 08, 2017, from

Sabatini, A. (1987). Il sessismo nella lingua italiana. Roma: Ist. Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato,

Libreria dello Stato.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Joseph Conrad and the value of immigration in pre-Brexit Britain

by James Warning

Joseph Conrad (source)
The British novelist Joseph Conrad, a man of Polish origins who did not set foot in England until his early 20s, is today considered to have been one of the greatest English prose writers of his time.1 In his novella, Heart of Darkness, Conrad’s narrator Marlow sits on the deck of a ship coming to port in London and meditates on the Roman conquest of Britain and the idea of racism and empire: “The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea—something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to....”2

With the United Kingdom’s 2016 decision to exit the European Union, a decision in part motivated by the racial anxieties of native British citizens towards immigrants, including Polish immigrants, Conrad would probably be dismayed to find that his adopted homeland had irredeemably resolved to offer a sacrifice to “sentimental pretence.” A populist movement has proven willing to do irreversible damage to its own country in an effort to move back towards a sentimentalized past, a past before the troubling influx of an ethnic other.

Flag of the United Kingdom (source)
Census data from Britain’s Office of National Statistics has shown that Polish is the second most commonly spoken language in the UK3 and according to a briefing paper published by the UK House of Commons library there were approximately 984,000 Polish nationals living in Britain as of 2016.4 But since the June 23 Brexit referendum there have been troubling incidents of hostility towards this substantial linguistic minority. As reported in such outlets as the Guardian5 and Reuters6, Polish immigrants in the UK have faced harassment and have been discouraged from speaking their language by locals who believe that low-skilled immigrants are driving down wages and taking jobs.

But are these racial hostilities around jobs and wages grounded in reality? A recent article in the Financial Times7 would suggest not. In interviews with business owners in the warehouse and food processing industries in the East Midlands region, FT found that there was a high level of market anxiety around finding workers to fill the low-wage jobs which locals often refuse to do and which up till now were only able to be kept filled by Polish immigrants. Thus, the uncertain future for Polish immigrants in the region presents an uncertain future to local businesses.

Flag of Poland (source)
Likewise, many analysts have shown, including a London School of Economics report entitled “The Consequences of Brexit for UK Trade and Living Standards” by Dhingra et. al,8 that the damage to the British economy caused by a substantial decrease in trade will most likely lead to a significant decrease in living standards in the UK. The idea that retreating from the EU will allow Britain to raise living standards for locals by getting rid of immigrants, including Polish immigrants, is unsupported by empirical evidence and doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

While it may be too late for the UK to back away from its unfortunate decision, it would be both humane and in Britain’s best interest to maintain a tolerant attitude toward its Polish immigrant population. As Joseph Conrad’s contribution to English letters demonstrates, immigrants can be a valuable resource to the United Kingdom, both in terms of their input on the labor market as well as their enrichment of the local culture. Either way, no Polish person should have to be afraid to speak their native language in Britain.

Works Cited

1. The Editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica. (2010, February). Joseph Conrad. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Joseph-Conrad

2. Conrad, Joseph. (1899). Heart of Darkness

3. Booth, Robert. (2013, January). Polish becomes England’s second languagehttps://www.theguardian.com/uk/2013/jan/30/polish-becomes-englands-second-language

4. Hawkins, Oliver; Anna Moses. (2016, July). Polish population of the United Kingdom http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-7660

5. Ratcliffe, Rebecca. (2016, November) They tell me not to speak Polish https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/nov/27/international-students-life-after-brexit-universities

6. Gumuchian, Marie-Louise. (2016, June). Polish migrants fearful over future after Brexit vote http://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-eu-poles-idUSKCN0ZE26X

7. Chaffin, Joshua. (2016, November). Businesses fear losing Polish migrants after Brexit https://www.ft.com/content/209b0f44-a036-11e6-891e-abe238dee8e2

8. Dhingra, Swati et. al.(2016). The consequences of Brexit for UK trade and living standards






James was a senior in Linguistics when he wrote this text in 418, 'Language and Minorities in Europe'.

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